It was a Friday afternoon. I had some time to kill and a Groupon to use, so I decided I would go get my nails done — one of my favorite things. What started as your typical shellac manicure appointment quickly turned into a weight loss consultation. I wasn’t upset about it; I like it when people ask me for advice. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the best time or place to have this conversation since neither of us could fully focus our attention on the topic, but nevertheless, I think we got somewhere.
You might be wondering how we got on the topic in the first place. No, I didn’t say, “Hey, you look like you could use some dietary advice, and I’m a dietitian, so lucky you.” It happened just like it always does. She asked me what I did for a living, and when I told her I was a dietitian, she gave me the classic response that most people do. She said, “Oh. I need you.” It’s a good feeling to be needed, isn’t it? Well, at that point, I knew I was pressed for time so I tried to think of what I could possibly tell her in this short timeframe that would make an impact and hopefully encourage her to make some positive changes after I walked out of her life probably forever. I’ve never been very good at being brief, but I did my best.
She leaned toward me and asked, “What is the one thing you tell people to do if they want to lose weight?” Of course I wanted to say, “Well, that’s a tough question. There isn’t just one magic solution to the problem. Everyone’s situation is different and everyone has different circumstances and current habits and… blah, blah, blah, blah.” You get it. No one wants to hear that verbose response, especially the woman doing my nails. It is the truth, but people hate the truth, don’t they? They just want a straight answer. A quick fix. Something black and white. Tell me the one thing that I can do to lose the weight. (Preferably, something that requires minimal effort.)
I’m going to be honest with y’all, as I was with her. I can’t think of one single thing, but I thought of five simple things, and that’s pretty condensed for me. If you are trying to get started not only with weight loss, but just improving your health in general, try to start with these five tips and hopefully you’ll start to see some positive changes. Don’t focus just on the physical changes, but also the mental and emotional changes that occur when you start practicing these healthy habits.
- Eat more regularly. I am always amazed at how many people skip meals, including overweight and obese people. Especially breakfast. But then they binge at night and basically consume a day’s worth of calories in a 1-2 hour span. Spread. It. Out. Eating more regularly (for example, every 3-6 hours) should keep you feeling full and satisfied until the next meal, especially if you’re eating the right foods, like fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. It is also totally fine to have a snack in between meals. If you’re hungry, EAT! Just make healthy choices, like a piece of light string cheese, an apple, Greek yogurt, hummus and baby carrots, or a handful of mixed nuts, etc. But if you literally just ate and you’re feeling hungry already, wait about two minutes and see if the craving passes. Ask yourself — are you bored? Are you just thirsty? Drink some zero calorie flavored water or hot tea, get up and walk for a minute, or chew some gum. If you truly still feel hungry a few minutes later, then go ahead and have a healthy snack. There’s nothing wrong with that. But seriously, do yourself a favor and stop skipping meals as a means to lose weight. It’s not healthy and it’s most definitely not fun. So don’t do it!
- Move more. You don’t have to go from being mostly sedentary to killing yourself in the gym for an hour every day of the week. I’m not asking for anything extreme here. I’m just asking you to move more than you currently do. Just increase your activity somehow. Do you sit at a desk all day for your job? Set a timer and get up and walk around for at least 2 minutes every hour. Drink water throughout the day so you have to get up and use the restroom every once in a while. Walk around for 10-15 minutes on your lunch break, or start taking a walk every night after dinner. Obviously, this step will look different for everyone depending on their schedule, age, and many other circumstances, but almost everyone can find a way to move a little bit more. If you’re not sure how much you’re moving now, get an activity tracker. It’s a real eye opener when you only have 2-3,000 steps at the end of a work day, and a great way to get motivated to be more active on a daily basis.
- Eat the rainbow. This one is my favorite. What I mean is try to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into all of your meals and snacks. Why? First of all, they are low in calories, rich in nutrients, and they keep you feeling full longer because they are loaded with fiber. Also, they are seriously so satisfying and delicious — it’s just about finding which ones you like and learning how to prepare them. You don’t have to eat every type of fruit or vegetable out there; I don’t even like all of them. Everyone has their favorites and that’s A-okay. Just try to get a good variety of colors so you know you’re getting a variety of nutrients as well. Once you figure out which fruits and veggies you like and how to whip them up at home, it becomes much easier to include them in your diet on a regular basis. Oh yeah, one more thing. You have to actually make time to go to the store, buy these foods, and have them available at home. That usually helps with increasing your intake. ; )
- Which brings me to my next point… Eat out less. This one has gotten so bad in America (and probably everywhere else) and it’s only getting worse by the day. Some people eat out for almost Every. Single. Meal. Not only is that absolutely killing your wallet, but I can almost guarantee you it is taking a toll on your health, whether it is visible on the outside or not. Unfortunately, the food at most restaurants isn’t even close to healthy. Nine times out of ten, you could make a similar meal at home for significantly less calories, fat, sodium, etc. Don’t get me wrong; there are ways to eat healthy-ish when you go out, but it’s usually a safer bet to just cook for yourself at home. Go online (enter Pinterest, my blog, or the other 5,000 healthy food blogs out there), find some easy and healthy recipes that your whole family likes, and rotate through them. Then if/when you get tired of them, find some new ones. Swap favorite recipes with some of your close friends or family. Keep trying new things. Switching it up often keeps things exciting, which makes eating healthy fun and not at all boring, like many people automatically assume it is. I absolutely love the way I eat and I am never bored. So HA. Try it out, y’all.
- Lastly, track your food. I am not saying you have to do this forever. I’m just asking you to try it for a few weeks if you are trying to lose weight or simply improve the quality of your diet. I personally think this is a great way to get started because it makes you so much more aware of what you’re putting in your mouth when you actually have to write it down. This is what they call accountability, people. Not only will you realize what you’re eating, but you’ll also realize when you’re eating, how much, etc. Awareness. Is. Everything. You might notice that you barely eat at all during the day but you’re a total nighttime grazer. Maybe you eat really small portions at breakfast and lunch and a massive dinner, followed by more snacks and dessert. Maybe you only eat one meal in the middle of the day. I don’t know what you do, but you may not even realize what you do either until you write it down and face it head on.
I could probably think of 5 (or 25) more tips, but I told you I’m trying to be concise. ; ) Like I said before, everyone is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to weight loss or improving your health. Just figure out what works best for you and run with it. Try new things. Do it along with a friend or significant other. Tell your loved ones so they can motivate you along the way and hold you accountable. Just know that you are never alone on the journey to better health, and never give up, because the end result is totally worth it.
eat well. live well. be happy.
Shanna Stewart, RD, LD